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A tribute to Seaman Dan

Story Published Thursday 14 January 2021
Seaman Dan (photo by Kerry Trapnell)

We’re saddened to hear of the passing of Henry Gibson ‘Seaman’ Dan.

An APRA member since 1997, and a proud APRA AMCOS Ambassador, Seaman Dan was an award-winning Torres Strait Islander songwriter and musician, and a hero to his Thursday Island community and musicians far beyond. He was best known for his seaside ballads.

Growing up among a thriving maritime industry on Thursday Island in the 1930s hugely influenced Seaman Dan, and was the inspiration for his music and stories. He began playing music and singing for family and friends at age 15. Songs like Pearly Shells and Old T.I. – T.I being Thursday Island. He sang in both English and Torres Strait Creole.

Among his rich repertoire of songs, he wrote the song T.I Blues in 1983, which became a hit for Torres Strait Islander group The Mills Sisters in 1993.

Long after he established his professional career as a pearl diver, Seaman Dan started recording albums at the age of 70. He won the ARIA Award for Best World Music in 2004 and 2009. In 2005 he won the Red Ochre Award for outstanding contributions to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander music. He was inducted into the National Indigenous Music Awards Hall of Fame in 2013. In 2019 he received the Grant McLennan Lifetime Achievement Award from the Queensland Music Awards.

"It is with a heavy heart we say farewell to a musical Icon from the Torres Strait in the passing of Seaman Dan.

His music & stories was part of a rich historical legacy. He captured a voice of a generation that laid the foundations of the fishing and music industry for the Torres Strait people."

His long-time collaborator, academic Dr Karl Neuenfeldt said Seaman Dan helped put Torres Strait music on the map. "That was important for people, culturally, just to be recognised that they have their own music traditions — and they're lovely traditions.”

“What a wonderful musical legacy Uncle Seaman Dan has gifted us all. The NATSIMO and APRA AMCOS send our condolences to his family and to the Torres Strait Islander community and our sincerest gratitude to the man himself, for sharing his wonderful songs and harmonious voice with us. May they continue to inspire and bring Island sunshine to our hearts, minds and souls.”
– Leah Flanagan, Manager, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Music Office

Seaman Dan took his music to Australia and the world, playing live well into his eighties.

He is survived by a large extended family and community who will remember him for his immense contribution to Torres Strait culture and music.